Updated: Aug 4
Towards the end of every year, many people "fall back" with a time change. During the fall time change, we gain an hour of time. This often means that, if you do nothing, your child may wake up an hour earlier on Sunday morning. I actually had to Google what countries observe Daylight Savings, because I had no idea. Most of North America and Europe does. It also happens in Iran, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, and parts of Australia, to name a few others. There's your geography lesson for the day! Now, back to why you're here...how to survive Daylight Savings with a baby or toddler.
First of all, this post is focusing on what NOT to do when it comes to the time change. If you're looking for how to transition baby for Daylight Savings, you'll want to check out my previous blog post: Daylight Savings and Sleep.
There are two common mistakes I see parents make during this time; doing these usually make the experience worse than it needs to be. Daylight Savings is a change no matter how you go about it, but if you prepare and then react in the right ways, your child should be fine in a day or two. Without further ado, here's what NOT to do:
Mistake 1: Just put baby to bed later on Saturday night
I do understand the thought process here- if you put your child to bed an hour later, then he'll sleep an hour later, right? Sorry...no. A later bedtime doesn't mean there will be a later wake-up. Usually, when kids go to bed later, they still wake around the same time (thanks to their circadian rhythm), which actually just means they got less sleep than usual. Due to the change, their "normal time" is now an hour earlier. So, if you wait to prepare until a night or two before, the body won't have time to adjust, and will, therefore, still likely wake earlier on Sunday morning, even with a later bedtime. This means your child will just have had an hour less sleep than normal, which will only make adjusting to the time change harder.
Your best shot at getting your child to actually sleep close to normal time on Sunday is to begin transitioning his schedule at least a week ahead of time. When you make this change gradually, and give the body more than 1 night to have a later bedtime, then he might not wake an hour earlier. This means that your child will be on a later schedule for a few days ahead. But then, once the time change happens, he'll ideally be right back to his normal schedule, or at least not that far off of it. To find out more about how to make this gradual transition, check here.
Mistake 2: Altering baby's schedule on Sunday
So let's say your child does wake up an hour earlier on Sunday, for whatever reason. The worst thing you can do in this case is put your baby down for a nap or bedtime earlier on Sunday because he woke up earlier that morning. Stick to your regular schedule on Sunday, no matter what happens that morning.
For example, let's say your baby normally wakes at 6:30am and then naps at 9:30am. But, he wakes at 5:30am on Daylight Savings Sunday. You would still do his nap at 9:30am, NOT 8:30am. But won't he be extra tired and cranky because there's an extra hour of wake time there? Yes. That might be a rough hour and/or you may need to entertain him to keep him awake. But, that'll happen once, and then you'll be back on schedule.
If you move his naptime an hour earlier to compensate for the earlier wake-up, then you're just affirming it. This means you're starting a cycle of continuing that earlier schedule. If you put him down early for Nap 1, then you'll likely need to for Nap 2 as well. Then bedtime will need to be earlier. Then guess what...yep...he'll likely be up earlier again on Monday. This is where parents get stuck in the trap of the earlier schedule after we fall back. To avoid that, just get back to your normal schedule on Sunday, regardless of what time he got up that morning.
For young babies on 3 or more naps, just continue going with the flow and their normal wake windows. For older babies and young toddlers, you may want to have a special activity or two that you can pull out to help keep them awake for that extra time. Going outside often does the trick. But, if the weather isn't favorable, then you can try blowing up some balloons in the living room, playing with new Play-Doh, or something else fun that isn't part of his normal every day routine. This will help keep him entertained until his normal nap time.
If your child really just can't handle the longer time awake, then at least don't put him down more than 30 minutes early. Do that for the Sunday and then get back to your normal schedule on Monday. For kids older than 18 months, you may find that the extra hour before their nap won't be that big of a deal. Then, just continue with their normal schedule. Regardless of age, things might be a bit "off" for a couple of days, but it should resolve quickly if you get them back on their normal schedule right away!
Waiting until the night before to prepare and then altering baby's schedule after the time change are the 2 biggest mistakes parents make at Daylight Savings. Giving your child's body time to adjust ahead of time and getting back to his normal schedule asap after are the best ways to see quick success!
If your child is struggling with this transition, or any other sleep troubles, schedule a free 10-minute introduction call with me. We'll talk about the issues you're having and I'll let you know how I can help you solve them!
~Ashley Bell, your pediatric sleep consultant